Lewis River Trail

  • Date: November 25, 2017
  • Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Start: Lower Falls Day Use Area
  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Duration: 4 hours 55 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

I hoped for a fast-paced, epic sufferfest (or something along those lines) to cap off our Thanksgiving Break. As luck would have it though, bad weather crapped all over that plan. Too lazy and defeated to come up with a plan B, we opted for something simple but scenic: a waterfall tour along the Lewis River. We arrived at the leisurely time of 9 am to a surprisingly empty lot. Despite the forecast, I’d still expected to see a few cars given the popularity of the hike we were about to do (not that I’m complaining). We’d have the trail to ourselves for the time being then!

From the parking lot we walked a short ways to the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint. These falls are the primary attraction, as well as the most accessible, of all the falls along the trail. It was easy to see why and so great to finally see them in person! They were also particularly voluminous and heavy (as were nearly all of the falls we saw throughout the morning) due to recent rain. We continued north, passing numerous structures (staircases, boardwalks, picnic tables at a campground, etc.) indicative of how busy this area usually is. We still hadn’t seen another person though.

Lower Lewis River Falls
Stairs leading down to the river
Heading into a grove of alders
Small seasonal waterfall

After the campground and footbridge crossing, the frontcountry-esque structures disappeared and we enjoyed a peaceful walk through the forest. A short detour due to a landslide that has the main trail closed took us up to the Middle Falls Trailhead and quickly back on the main trail past the washout. From here we hiked by two more waterfalls. First came spectacular Copper Creek Falls. After crossing the bridge above the falls there’s a short but steep side path that leads down to an amazing viewpoint. Middle Falls came shortly after. It didn’t quite have the same ‘wow’ factor as Lower Lewis and Copper Creek, but it was still a worthwhile side trip.

Cassie enjoying some off-leash time since no one else was on the trail

Copper Creek Falls from aforementioned viewpoint

Middle Lewis River Falls

Back on the main trail, we passed beneath moss-covered rocky cliffs and stopped for a snack break when we reached an area dotted with a handful of towering old growth trees. I’ll admit our primary reason for stopping here was so I could get a picture of the tallest tree I could find. Fitting it into the frame proved to be quite difficult and took several attempts at various angles. I think the final product (see “old growth” picture below) turned out nicely though.

Old growth
Begging for (human) treats

Just around the corner from the old growth section was the second to last waterfall, Upper Lewis River Falls. We picked our way carefully over slick rocks to stand on the river’s edge and get a good look at these thundering giants crashing dramatically into the Lewis. Even though we were standing a fair distance away, the mist coming off of them managed to soak us quickly. Ready to dry off and warm up, we returned to the main trail and finally got a small dose of uphill hiking (everything before was relatively flat). We made it to the Taitnapum Falls viewpoint high above the river before turning around. On the way back, we made one final side trip to the Upper Lewis River Falls viewpoint to experience a slightly different perspective from above the falls.

Upper Lewis River Falls

Taitnapum Falls
Upper Lewis River Falls from the designated viewpoint

We hiked back out the same way, enjoying our favorite waterfalls (Copper Creek and Lower Lewis) for the second time. Our few hours of solitude had come to an end though. Now that it was early afternoon more and more people were starting to make their way down the trail to admire the waterfalls and possibly walk off their Thanksgiving feasts from two days prior (like we were trying to do). It certainly pays to get up and drive out before sunrise sometimes.

Back at the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint, before turning off to head back to the car, we finally took our much anticipated cocoa break. We huddled together on a downed tree, gripping our cocoa-filled Nalgenes to warm our hands. Despite the occasional hikers passing by a few feet away on the trail, only the sound of the rushing Lewis River filled the air. A calm, peaceful end to an eventful Thanksgiving break.

Cocoa break before heading back to the car


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